Applications of positive psychology…teaching our kids for happiness

Applications of positive psychology…teaching our kids for happiness

by Cian Traynor for the Irish Times

BEFORE MARTIN Seligman became a happiness guru, he spent years studying why humans and animals would give up in apparently hopeless situations. Seligman himself wasn_ã_t known for looking on the bright side. By the psychologist_ã_s own account, he was a depressive grump for 40 years.

So when his five-year-old daughter confronted him one day, saying: _ã–Daddy, if I could learn to stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch,_㝠something clicked.

He shifted his study from _ã–learned helplessness_㝠to _ã–learned optimism_ã, discovering in the process that resilience can be conditioned and that happy children make for better academic performers.

Today, Seligman_ã_s field of _ã–positive psychology_㝠is slowly altering the approach to teaching in the US and UK. Children are being taught how to handle day-to-day stress and improve decision-making from pre-school upwards. Yet part of the movement_ã_s popularity is due to the effect it has on the well-being of teachers.

When Isabelle Flynn was made principal of St Joseph_ã_s in Ballymitty, Co Wexford, she was exhausted. A stressful school year had culminated in an evaluation of the school and the hospitalisation of her mother in the same week.

At that point, she wondered if signing up to a summer course entitled Teaching Happiness was desperately naive. _ã–I feared it would be a load of American psycho-babble,_㝠she says. _ã–But I thought, _ãÄif there_ã_s some kind of happiness in this job, I need to latch on to it_ã_._ã

By the first staff meeting of the new term, she was urging the other teachers to implement the course_ã_s techniques. _ã–I felt genuinely rejuvenated,_㝠she says. _ã–Telling someone they need to teach happiness in this climate of pessimism might seem like a big ask. But when you_ã_re in a dark place, you need a flicker of light._ã

More than 400 primary and second-level teachers around Ireland have already signed up to the programme, which is run by the Institute for Child Education and Psychology Europe (ICEP Europe), an independent training and research institute based in Maynooth. It_ã_s an online module that draws together more than 10 years_ã_ research into how happiness improves our attention spans, working memory and problem-solving ability…

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